Feb. 11, 2012

The Waking

by Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

"The Waking" by Theodore Roethke, from Selected Poems of Theodore Roethke. © Anchor Books, 1966. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Screenwriter Philip Dunne (1908-1992) (books by this author) was born in New York City on this day in 1908. Politically active, he helped organize the Writers Guild of America and fought against entertainment industry blacklists of writers suspected of leftist leanings in the 1940s and 1950s. Among Dunne's many screenwriting credits are How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Robe (1953).

It's the birthday of Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1909-1993), film director, producer, and screenwriter, who was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1909. He won many awards, including double Oscars as Best Director and Best Screenplay for All About Eve (1950), in which he gave Bette Davis the line, "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night."

It's the birthday of the man who gave us the phonograph, the light bulb, and the movie camera, among 1,097 patents: Thomas Alva Edison, born in Milan, Ohio (1847).

It's the birthday of novelist and travel writer Pico Iyer (books by this author), born to Indian parents in Oxford, England (1957). After college, he spent a year working in a Mexican restaurant in the U.S., disguising himself as a Mexican. Then he and a friend went on a trip from California through Central America to Bolivia. He later said: "It's a great thing to take a journey like that when you're seventeen or eighteen because you're relatively reckless and you don't really know what the dangers are. And then once you've done it, anything seems possible."

He went to graduate school at Harvard, and during the summers he got a job writing for a budget travel guidebook. He traveled around England, France, Italy and Greece, living on almost no money and sleeping in the gutters and under bridges. He covered a different town each day, walking its streets and taking notes in the morning and afternoon and writing it up in the evening.

After graduating, he got a job working for Time magazine. He sat in a cubicle all day and wrote articles about places like the Philippine jungles and the Andes Mountains, from reports he got from other writers. He finally got fed up with office work and took a vacation to Southeast Asia. He fell in love with the place and decided to take a six-month leave of absence. He spent the first three months traveling through 10 Southeast Asian countries and the next three months writing the draft of his first book, Video Nights in Katmandu (1988). He's since published several more books, including the novel Abandon: A Romance (2003).

Pico Iyer said: "The less conscious one is of being 'a writer,' the better the writing. And though reading is the best school of writing, school is the worst place for reading. Writing should ... be as spontaneous and urgent as a letter to a lover, or a message to a friend who has just lost a parent ... and writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger."

And, "Home is whatever you can rebel against."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
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  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
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